USADA vendetta?

As a cycling fan I’m pleased that I was able to watch Lance Armstrong race at the end of his cycling career, and capture this photo of him in Santa Rosa during the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. I think he was an incredibly gifted athlete who has been a great inspiration to the cancer community. However, now he has been accused by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of violating cycling’s anti-doping rules.

USADA gave him the option of contesting the charges through arbitration, or accepting sanctions that would likely include a lifetime ban on competing in sports and forfeiture of his competitive results (including his 7 Tour de France wins). Armstrong believed the process used by USADA was flawed and sought relief in the Federal District Court in Austin, Texas. Judge Sam Sparks dismissed the case because the Court lacked jurisdiction. Armstrong then announced he would not proceed to arbitration, and USADA has subsequently banned him from competition for life and disqualified all of his competitive results.

Many people believe this to be a tacit admission of guilt. It may be, but I interpret Armstrong’s position to be that the arbitration hearing was not winnable. Judge Sparks indicated this might be the case in his dismissal order. I tracked down the Judge’s order, and here is a part of what he said in the conclusion:

As the Court has indicated, there are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA’s apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI’s equally evident desire not to proceede against him. Unfortunately, the appearance of conflict on the part of both organizations creates doubt the charges against Armstrong would receive fair consideration in either forum. The issue is further complicated by USA Cycling’s late-breaking show of support for UCI, and apparent opposition to USADA’s proceedings—a wrinkle which does not change the Court’s legal analysis, but only confirms that these matters should be resolved internally, by the parties most affected, rather than by edict of this Court.

The events in USADA’s charging letter date back fourteen years, span a multitude of international competitions, and involve not only five non-citizens of the United States who were never licensed in this country, but also one of the most well-known figures in the history of cycling. As mystifying as USADA’s election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal—the regulation and promotion of cycling. However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts.

In a footnote, Judge Sparks says:

Among the Court’s concerns is the fact that USADA has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after his alleged doping violations occurred, and intends to consolidate his case with those of several other alleged offenders, including—incredibly—several over whom USA Cycling and USOC apparently have no authority whatsoever. Further, if Armstrong’s allegations are true, and USADA is promising lesser sanctions against other allegedly offending riders in exchange for their testimony against Armstrong, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations to USOC.

and further:

USADA’s conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.

Despite the words United States appearing in its title, the USADA is a private organization not subject to government oversight. Apparently it is accountable to no one, and holds virtual monopoly over drug testing and enforcement of athletic sports like USA Track & Field, USA Cycling, USA Swimming, US Soccer, etc. The USADA needs to address these issues and demonstrate that it is impartial, applying its rules equally across all athletes only within its jurisdictional boundaries.

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